Sergio Perez wins
Formula 1

Mika Häkkinen: “Azerbaijan gave us an extraordinary Grand Prix on Sunday”

June 8, 2021January 3rd, 2022

Plenty of drama, a race full of surprises and some incidents that are potentially worrying for Formula One, writes Mika Häkkinen.

Sergio Perez won his first Grand Prix six months ago and now has his second, an important victory for the Mexican driver in only his sixth race for Red Bull Racing. He has been employed for his speed, experience and ability to bring the car home, particularly with his reputation for looking after tires, and he did a perfect job in Baku. A brilliant result for him, and an important moment for Red Bull as they now have two drivers able to support the team’s push in the World Championship for Constructors.

His win was inherited, of course, but that does not take away from Sergio’s achievement.

I have to feel sorry for Max Verstappen. He drove such a strong race from P3 on the grid, only to suffer that terrible tire failure on the main straight, at maximum speed. There is a right hand kink in the straight, which will have put load on the left rear tire, and that is the one which failed. We need to wait for the result of Pirelli’s investigation, to see whether there was an actual problem with the tire itself or a puncture caused by debris. Either way, it is a worry for F1.

I have experienced tire blow outs, and it is never a nice experience. It is very sudden, violent and leaves you a passenger at 300kph. It was a tire failure that put me in hospital at the Australian Grand Prix in 1995, and in 1999 I had tire fail while driving flat out in Germany. When you feel the car go, you instantly start to try and correct the steering, but at maximum speed there is really nothing you can do.

What makes Max’s tire failure more worrying is that it was the second one of the day: Lance Stroll having suffered the same fate in his Aston Martin. The fact both incidents took place at the same location, at maximum speed, means the FIA together with the teams and Pirelli will need to look carefully at all the data, and try to understand the reasons. In Baku both drivers were on their own, with no car alongside. They were also fortunate to spin and hit the wall with the nose section. At other circuits this kind of failure could lead to a more catastrophic accident.

While Max and Lance suffered those accidents, their team-mates had a day to remember, Sergio being followed across the line by Sebastian Vettel’s Aston Martin. It was fantastic to see him on the podium and smiling again. Sebastian had a very tough final season at Ferrari in 2020, and a lot of people wondered if he could rediscover his form at Aston.

As a four times World Champion he knows how to get the most from a car, and also from a race like the one on Sunday. He ran a long first stint, giving him fresh tires and the grip he needed to attack the cars in front. He raced very strongly, put together some great moves, and gave himself and the team an important boost.

Aston Martin have had a difficult start to the season, but Sebastian is now a lot happier with the car and if he can continue to build confidence in its performance I am sure this will not be the last time we see him on the podium this year.

Pierre Gasly took an important podium for Alpha Tauri, and he remains one of the most exciting talents to watch. He used to drive for Red Bull, of course, and was put back to their ‘junior team’ in the middle of 2019. He has really produced some strong drives since this – including the win in Italy last year, of course – and I am sure all of the top teams are taking notice.

This was the second really difficult Grand Prix for Mercedes. After a bad weekend in Monaco we expected them to recover in Baku, but it never happened. Although Lewis Hamilton was able to qualify well, you could see in the race that he did not have the performance in his car to pull away from the Red Bulls, and when his pit stop lasted 4.5s against Max’s 1.9s the race lead disappeared.

Lewis’s mistake after the race restart was not typical of him, but it shows how hard he was pushing to try and make up for his car’s performance issues. After Max’s unfortunate accident, Lewis’s problem provided some balance to the result, but Mercedes will be now looking for answers to their technical problems. Valtteri Bottas reported very poor grip all weekend, and could not get the tires up to temperature quickly enough, a problem team boss Toto Wolff admits they need to fix.

After defending well against Red Bull in the first four races of the season, Mercedes have struggled at the temporary street circuits in Monaco and Baku, where grip levels are low. They will be hoping for a very different outcome in France in two weeks time because, based on what we have seen, Max, Sergio and Red Bull are in an extremely strong position.

With all the drama of the race it is easy to forget that Charles Leclerc took pole position for Ferrari. He benefitted from a tow – when your car gets into the slipstream of the one in front – but still it was a fantastic lap. In the race the Ferraris clearly did not have the straight line speed to defend, but two pole positions in Monaco and Baku have been good for them and for F1.

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